Naperville autoworkers continue to strike as UAW walkout expands


Less than 24 hours before the United Auto Workers expanded its walkout to an additional 7,000 members across Ford and GM Friday — including 4,600 workers in Chicago — strikers in Naperville said they’re hoping for a resolution but prepared to stay out for as long as necessary.

“I was thinking that it would be over already,” said Trevor Teflord, standing outside the Chrysler MOPAR Parts Distribution Center in Naperville Thursday afternoon.

Telford is one of 95 employees at the west suburban facility, which joined the UAW’s strike last week after union President Shawn Fain gave marching orders to Stellantis and GM distribution centers across the country.

“It looks like it’s going to go a little further,” Telford said, waving to passing cars honking in support.

In an online address to members Friday morning, Fain called on Ford’s Southeast Side Chicago Assembly Plant and a GM assembly facility in Michigan to join the picket line, bringing the total number of striking autoworkers to about 25,000.

“Despite our willingness to bargain, Ford and GM have refused to make meaningful progress at the table,” Fain said. “What we win at the bargaining table depends on the power we build on the job. It’s time to use that power.”

Stellantis, however, was spared from the third round of strikes. Fain said moments before Friday’s broadcast, the company — which owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram — made “significant progress” on negotiations, reinstating cost of living adjustments that were suspended during the 2009 recession and the right to strike over plant closures.

“We are excited about this momentum with Stellantis and hope it continues,” Fain said. “Until then, we will keep building our arsenal of democracy and we will win.”

Unity — and parity to match — is Telford’s top concern. Other Naperville autoworkers on strike this week said the same.

“It’s not fair,” said Telford, who started working at Naperville’s Chrysler facility in 2000. “And we work hard. We’re on our feet all day every day.”

“We don’t want to be out here,” said Mark Luce, sitting beside Telford Thursday, with a “UAW On Strike” sign in hand. Luce is in his 28th year with Stellantis.

“I’d rather be in there working,” he said. “But there’s only so much abuse you can take and now we’ve had our share.”

Rachel Fulton, center, and other striking workers from the Chrysler MOPAR Parts Distribution Center in Naperville walk the picket line Thursday.

UAW is seeking pay increases, shorter workweeks and improvements to retiree pensions and health care plans amid record profits for Stellantis, GM and Ford, among other demands. The union launched its strike against the Big Three automakers Sept. 15. It is the first time the UAW has called for a strike against all three automakers in the Detroit-based union’s 88-year history.

Luce and Telford said their priority is seeing an end to a tiered wage system, which allows workers doing the same job to receive different levels of pay. Top-scale assembly workers, for instance, earn more than $32 an hour while the lowest tiered workers start at just $17.

“If you’re gonna be a union, you have to have everyone at the same level,” Telford said.

About half of those working at Naperville’s distribution center are in the upper wage tier, according to Telford. The other half, he said, “gets paid a lot less and their benefits are a lot less.”

At the bottom are temporary workers. Temps don’t have as many benefits or the job security of full-time employees. In Naperville, there are about seven to 10 temps, workers said. The UAW wants to limit the use of temps as well as accelerate the track to full-time status.

“The (temps) that are here now, they’re working them to death,” Luce said.

“Our fight isn’t just for us, but for them too,” Telford said.

“For the working class in general,” Luce added.

Rodney Martinez said about a fifth of his Naperville coworkers can afford to live and work in town. Martinez lives in DeKalb, about 50 minutes away. Telford said he drives in from neighboring Bolingbrook. Luce commutes down from Bartlett, just over 40 minutes north.

Striking United Auto Workers members and their supporters fill the picket line Thursday in the ongoing labor dispute with the Big Three automakers at the Chrysler MOPAR Parts Distribution Center in Naperville.

“There’s a few people that do … but most of us live on the outskirts,” Martinez said. “It’s hard.”

Some commute from as far as Belvidere, an hour and a half without traffic, every day, Martinez said.

In February, Stellantis “indefinitely” idled its Belvidere Assembly Plant and laid off its last 1,200 union workers after halting production of the facility’s product, the Jeep Cherokee. Stellantis is now considering converting the dormant plant into a massive parts distribution center, a scenario Naperville distribution workers are keeping a close eye on.

“What they want to do is make a megahub,” said Josie Hernandez, president of the local Stellantis union. The hub would entail the consolidation of smaller distribution centers, like Naperville’s, she said.

“That would leave us here without a plant,” she said. “We don’t want to uproot. We’ve been working hard.”

Chicago Tribune reporter Robert Channick and The Associated Press contributed.


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